Read Deuteronomy 12:1-32
Early in His ministry, Jesus engaged in conversation with a woman who had come to a well to draw water. She brought up a point of tension between Jews and Samaritans: “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem” (Jn. 4:20).
Her question was one of the “where” of worship.
Given Moses’ instruction from Deuteronomy 12, it was an important question. Worship had been something of a free-for-all during the 40 years of wandering. Everyone was doing as he saw fit. (See v. 8). But as they headed into the Promised Land, the Lord gave specific instructions about the “where” and the “how” of worship:
- Not in the same manner or in the same places as the pagan nations they were conquering. (See vv. 1-4.) They were to destroy the pagan places of idol worship and in no way adopt their worship practices.
- Only in the locations and with the methodology that God outlined. (See vv. 5-7.) Those locations were yet to be defined. Initially, they would include Shechem and Shiloh. (See Josh. 18, 24.) Later, of course, Jerusalem became central. (See 2 Sam. 6.)
What about today? How important is the “where” of worship?
Jesus gave the answer to the woman at the well . . . an answer that still applies to us today.
“Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem . . . Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
With His death, the ultimate sacrifice would be given. There would no longer be the need to bring a sacrifice to a specific location. And even the location of His crucifixion or resurrection would not become centers to which His followers would be forced to make pilgrimages.
The focus is no longer on “where” but on “how”. We can worship anywhere, provided we do it in spirit and in truth . . . that it rises from the depths of who we are and is expressed appropriately to the One who rescued us out of darkness and has given us light.